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Gov. Susana Martinez looks at Wednesday’s panel of speakers during a conference held in the SUB. Martinez was the keynote speaker, addressing challenges the state of New Mexico faces with higher education.

Gov. Susana Martinez looks at Wednesday’s panel of speakers during a conference held in the SUB. Martinez was the keynote speaker, addressing challenges the state of New Mexico faces with higher education.

Governor addresses UNM on state of education

New Mexico Gov. Susanna Martinez came to UNM on Wednesday to outline some of her initiatives for higher education across the state, in hopes that new policies will be implemented to help college students finish their studies on time.

“We are falling far short of one of the key expectations that New Mexicans have of us: to see students graduate and graduate on time,” she said.

She spoke in front of a full SUB ballroom, where University administration, college leaders and others gathered for Martinez’s Summit for Higher Education.

Her strategies include lowering the credit-hour requirement for all degrees to 120, making credits easily transferable between institutions and getting students the information they need regarding what courses they should take.

“We need students who are trained to think and to work, students who are curious enough to push boundaries and challenge norms and practical enough to thrive in the workforce,” Martinez said.

David Longanecker, president of the Western Interstate Commission for Higher Education, said that the 46-percent graduation rate at four-year institutions in New Mexico is far below the national average of 
69 percent.

He added that New Mexico is one of 11 states in which the older demographic is better educated than the younger, giving those attending the summit a sense 
of urgency.

“Your older adult population will be retiring before too long,” he said. “You not only have the challenge of bringing your young adult population up to the standard in the nation, but you will be replacing a well-educated population as well.”

Martinez said one of her primary initiatives for colleges across the state is universal adoption of 120-credit hour programs for all degrees, which amounts to taking 15 hours each semester for four years. Currently, a minimum of 128 hours is needed to graduate with a bachelor’s degree at UNM, according to catalog.unm.edu.

Martinez also endorsed what she referred to as “meta-majors,” consolidated areas of interest for students just arriving at 
a University.

“A little exploration in college is a good thing. A lot of wandering is not,” she said. “The light at the tunnel does not get any brighter for a student who wanders without direction.”

She said the strategy would involve freshmen taking core classes for a declared general field of interest, and later settling into a specific degree, and potentially career, pathway.

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Martinez said she would also like to make it easier on students switching to new colleges, specifically when it comes to transferring credits and being able to immediately apply them to 
their degrees.

She said her focus is not just on graduation rates, but also for students to be as prepared as they can be for the workforce — namely, the local workforce.

“It makes no sense to pay for all the training, and then send the student elsewhere,” she said.

Chancellor for Health Sciences Paul Roth said he agreed with the priority, and that the state’s medical workforce benefits from keeping its students. About 99 percent of all graduates in medical schools at UNM are state residents, and 40 percent of all doctors practicing in the state are New Mexico-bred, Roth said.

“I think that’s at the core of everything we’re trying to do,” he said. “Given that we spend relatively high amounts of our state budget on higher education, you would hope that the state benefits by having students (stay).”

Martinez described students as an investment, saying the state should do all it can to retain graduates in New Mexico, providing a pipeline straight to the local workforce.

To that end, Martinez said the state will do a more consistent job of providing data to UNM and other institutions informing them which areas of the statewide workforce are lacking. Additionally, she would like students to start gaining the necessary experience in college.

“We need to expose them to the real-world possibilities of the workforce they’re competing (in),” she said.

Martinez suggested that general success in college begins at the high school level, saying that there is much that can be done to “build stronger bridges between public education and higher education.”

She said $20 million is spent every year to teach college students what they were supposed to learn in high school.

Bruce Vandal, senior vice president of Complete College America, said that 70 percent of students taking remedial courses never go on to take the college-level course. As a result, they end up having to take far more credits than necessary by the end of their college careers — sometimes 150 or more.

Martinez also discussed the problem of rising tuition, saying that over the past five years the cost of attending college has gone up 17 percent nationally, while average income has gone down almost 5 percent in that same span.

“It’s a staggering amount that even exceeds the growth in health care costs over that same period of time,” she said. “Tuition is always going up, and that defies logic. We owe it to our students (to fix this).”

Martinez ended by saying that the state and leaders of statewide universities owe it to their 
students to prepare them for their futures.

“Over the long haul, the key will be education,” she said. “The key will be cultivating a new generation of innovators, of leaders, of high-quality employees and people who are capable of supporting a diversifying economy in our state.”

David Lynch is the news editor at the Daily Lobo. He can be reached at news@dailylobo.com or on Twitter @RealDavidLynch.

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